TRIPOLI – Three car bombs exploded near interior ministry and security buildings in the Libyan capital on Sunday, killing at least two people in attacks authorities blamed on supporters of the country’s deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Libyan security officials said they had arrested 32 members of an organised network of Gaddafi loyalists linked to the attacks, which took place on the eve of the anniversary of the fall of Tripoli to rebel fighters.
Ambulances and firefighters rushed to the scenes of Sunday’s blasts in residential areas in central Tripoli, and large numbers of police were deployed to cordon off the sites and remove the charred vehicles and other debris.
They were the first fatal attacks of their kind since a revolt led to Gaddafi’s overthrow and death last year after 42 years in power.
The first bomb blew up near the interior ministry’s administrative offices in Tripoli but caused no casualties, security sources told Reuters. On arriving at the site, police found another car bomb that had not blown up.
Minutes later, two car bombs exploded near the former headquarters of a women’s police academy, which the defence ministry has been using for interrogations and detentions, the sources said, killing two civilians and wounding three.
“The (victims) were two young men in their 20s. They drove past the police academy precisely at the time of the explosion,” a security source said.
The blasts, which caused minor damage to the buildings and shattered windows of nearby cars and buildings, took place early in the day as worshippers prepared for mass morning prayers marking Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim celebration that marks the end of the fasting month Ramadan.
The 32 people were arrested after security forces raided several locations in and around Tripoli, tipped off by what a security official said were leads from “closed-circuit street cameras and intelligence.”
The official, from the Supreme Security Committee that has been supervising security matters since Gaddafi’s fall, told Reuters connections between the group and the attacks “have been established”.
The latest attacks will test the mettle of the national assembly, which made improving security a priority when it assumed control this month from the National Transitional Council of opposition forces that toppled Gaddafi.
Its main task will be containing numerous armed groups, mostly militias who took part in the uprising, who refuse to lay down their weapons. Disarming them remains a challenge.
The 200-member assembly will name a new prime minister who will pick his government, pass laws and steer Libya to full parliamentary elections after a new constitution is drafted next year.
Persistent instability has affected Libya’s relations with other countries and international organizations whose help it needs in its drive for stability, security and economic reconstruction.
The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended its activities in Benghazi, Libya’s second biggest city, and Misrata after one of its compounds in Misrata was attacked with grenades and rockets.
The fate of seven Iranian relief workers, official guests of the Libyan Red Crescent Association, remains unknown almost three weeks after they were kidnapped by gunmen in the heart of Benghazi.